My adult children, Benson, Natalie and her fiancé, Kevin, and I planned a trip to Europe earlier this year. Barcelona was number one on my list and France was number one on theirs. Bordeaux became the starting point as my son, a competitive weightlifter, has a following in Bordeaux. This is the new reality of global connectivity and, even though Benson doesn’t speak French, he has folks some 4,000 miles away that follow his weightlifting career on social media. I was hesitant about Bordeaux since its notoriety is wine and I’ve been sober for over 5 years. I assumed, incorrectly, that there would be a preponderance of wine tasting rooms. I wasn’t sure how I was going to navigate it but to my surprise and delight, Bordeaux is such a beautiful, tranquil city I never thought twice about drinking and just relaxed into the pace and storybook atmosphere. It was the perfect pause.
Here is why Bordeaux is the perfect pause:
It’s a pedestrian city. The only car I was ever in was the taxi from the airport to our rental apartment. The rest of the time I was mostly on foot or on the tram. Between the cobblestones, ancient gates, pedestrian plazas and narrow streets, you are more likely to get run over by a skateboarder or bicyclist than a car. This makes for a much slower pace. The busiest street with vehicles was along the la Garonne River on the Quai Richelieu. I realized that not being hyper vigilant about cars and constantly looking both ways to cross the street is like a sedative.
Incredible accommodations. Somehow, when I booked the rental apartment, we scored a fabulous two bedroom apartment with a wraparound balcony, 14 foot ceilings within spitting distance of the Porte Cailhau (built in 1494). We were there in mid-August with afternoon highs in the mid-90’s and while we had fans, there was no air-conditioning. There were many a lazy afternoon, laying on the couch staring out at the Porte Cailhau waiting for Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty to appear; somehow the heat just wasn’t that bad. We had an evening routine of opening all the floor to ceiling length shades, 7 sets of double French doors, and letting the river breeze cool off the apartment as the sun set about 9 pm. The Place du Palais, a pedestrian plaza, was right below our apartment and as the sun set, it came alive with a wandering saxophone player, and the murmur of crowds chatting over food and drink at outdoor cafes. I went to sleep every night with the buzz of laughter below and the cool breeze blowing in through the open balcony door. I was in the juxtaposition of being a part of street energy below yet curled up in bed.
The public spaces. We were in an easy 10-minute walk to many palaces, gates, parks, gardens and walkways. There was the picturesque Plains de la Bourse de Bordeaux surrounding the Fontaine des Trois Graces next to the Miror d’eau. The Miror d’eau is the world’s largest reflecting pool and covers 3,450 square meters. It is quite the attraction, especially during the summer, as children and adults are skipping, skating, crawling and strolling through the water all day long. It is vibrant and was filled with energy and laughter throughout the day and evening. The walkway along la Garonne, was very wide and throughout the day there would be musicians, skaters with boomboxes and all walks of life strolling down the thoroughfare. The Monument aux Girondins sits on one of the largest squares in Europe and has a Lady Liberty at the top of the fountain. There were countless places to wander.
Deep history. Bordeaux was first established in 300 B.C by the Celtics and has been inhabited and/or conquered by the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Franks and English. We happened into the Bordeaux Cathedral (Cathedral- Primatial Sainte-Andres de Bordeaux). This amazing cathedral was initially founded in 814. Last year I had read several books on English Queen Consorts and had read about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Imagine my surprise when I read that the 13-year-old Eleanor married the future Louis VII of France in this very cathedral in 1137. She became Queen of France, later divorced (when she was unable to bear him a son) and married Henry II and became Queen of England and mother to King Richard the Lionheart and King John of England (author of the Magna Carta). As I roamed the streets of Bordeaux, I was captivated by who had walked these streets before me.
The food. There are shops, and pubs, and markets, and restaurants, everywhere. If you can’t find a boulangerie on this block, walk one more and there will be one. Or a cafe with cafe au lait and the local favorite pastry, Canelé. I admit, I gave up on trying to be 100% plant based while in Bordeaux. We had platters of local oysters from Arcachon Bay and all kinds of cheese. Natalie managed to go to the local farmers market and grab some amazing goat cheese. The streets were constantly transforming throughout the day, where in the morning Chez Fred would be set up as an outdoor cafe with coffee and baguettes at 9 a.m., beer and wine with charcuterie by mid-day and by midnight all the chairs, tables and umbrellas would be packed up and gone without a trace and the Place du Palais would be empty. We stopped by an ice cream shop that made artisan ice cream and Natalie had rose flavored ice cream topped with dried rose pedals. The array of food was amazing; simply amazing
Bordeaux was the perfect pause because the pace is so laid back. I had no agenda. No place I had to be. The small television in the corner of our apartment stayed dormant. The section where we stayed was not a central tourist hub although there were plenty of people taking pictures of the Porte Cailhau throughout the day and evening. In fact, I can’t remember hearing English spoken in shops or in restaurants (except for us). I felt unplugged and floated through the day with hardly a plan. It’s a place to be present and in the moment.